Cerebral palsy (CP) is a disorder of movement and posture due to injury to the developing brain. In the U.S., there are approximately one million people affected by CP. In addition, many head injuries and other diseases result in lasting disability that places enormous personal and financial burdens on affected children and their families. To date, scientific efforts have focused largely on protecting brain cells at the time of injury rather than recovery of function afterwards. The clinic will target its treatments to restoring neurological function.
To restore neurological function in children who sustain injury to the developing nervous system by accelerating the incorporation of new neurorehabilitation treatments into clinical practice.
In recent years, our understanding of brain plasticity has grown substantially. Work at the Burke Neurological Institute demonstrates how the developing brain responds to injury and how preserved brain regions take over functions of injured ones. We have also developed procedures to stimulate neural plasticity and improve function in brain-injured animals. The goal of our recovery program is to translate these insights into therapies for children with chronic brain injury.
The strategy of the program is to use patterned neural activity—a fundamental determinant of brain plasticity—to improve the function of the damaged brain. First, we will identify brain connections spared by injury, and then improve the function of those connections using either high-intensity training alone or in combination with electrical brain stimulation. The benefits of this approach have been substantiated in animal studies and preliminary clinical trials. In addition, this approach is practical, safe, and well-tolerated by patients.
The Early Brain Injury Recovery Clinic consists of two basic science laboratories that study activity-based therapies for brain repair and one clinical laboratory to study these therapies in children. The labs are linked by two common themes: response of the young brain to injury, and repair of the injured brain using activity.